Mums' colors are tempting now, but wise buyers will hold off and watch for plants with good buds

Backyard Q&A

August 18, 2002|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

Q. I was at a garden center last week and saw chrysanthemums on display. Is this a good time to plant mums for fall color?

A. Mums can be planted now; however, I think it would be best to plant them a little later in the summer.

There are good reasons to plant later.

First, mums require a lot of water, so if you plant them now, you must be prepared to water them into the fall. On the other hand, if you wait until early September, the weather will be cooler and they will require less care.

Also, keep in mind that mums bloom for only three weeks or so. If they are already blooming and you plant them now, they will be bloomed out before summer ends.

However, if you purchase mums with plump, unopened buds in early September and plant them shortly thereafter, they will provide you with a nice display of flowers when fall truly arrives in late September.

Q. In researching and planning a new landscape planting for my house, I have found that most plants like well-drained soil. Why is this, and how important is well-drained soil to plant growth?

A. Having well-drained soil is vital to the growth of most plants. This is because plants require oxygen, and poorly drained soils rarely contain enough oxygen for healthy plant growth.

If poorly drained soils receive a heavy rain or a heavy watering, they quickly become saturated. When this happens, the oxygen in the soil is displaced by water and the plants can suffocate.

In addition, there are a number of disease organisms that thrive in wet soils. If one of these organisms is present in your soil, your plants can be weakened and destroyed.

The best way to improve soil drainage is to supplement it with organic matter. I would recommend that you use composted leaves for this.

Checklist

1. Two consecutive days of hot, dry weather can severely damage some container plants. During the hottest and driest days of summer and early fall, it may be necessary to water every day.

2. Going away for the weekend? If you have container plants in full sun, they can be temporarily moved to a shady location for protection.

3. Late-summer pruning encourages new growth when plants are least able to sustain it. During this time of year, shrubs should only be pruned when it is essential.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www.hgic.umd.edu.

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